Is He a Wife Beater or Tsaddik?
I see the wife beater once every few weeks.
He wears lawyerly pinstriped shirts and has pudgy baby cheeks and everywhere he goes he reads from a book of Tehillim as he walks. Every time I see him I wonder if he ever trips.
People who don’t know him must think he’s a hidden tsaddik, one of those elusive 36 wandering around this world somewhere.
But I know better. I know that he beat his first wife because the house was never spotless enough, and she left him on their first anniversary. Then he beat his second wife, who divorced him after a few weeks . Now he’s married for the third time…I wish them all the best. Maybe all those Tehillim he’s reading all day, every day, have finally gotten to his heart?
But I doubt it.
The glorious Baltimore Temple was built before the Depression by a group of successful Jewish businessmen. As a child, it used to fill me with awe, just as much as the massive Roman-Catholic Baltimore Cathedral that overlooked my school. The Temple had a massive domed ceiling, at least a dozen twinkling chandeliers, Persian rugs lining the sanctuary, stained glass windows portraying Biblical scenes.
I remember hearing that the Temple’s first rabbi had decided to banish the final verse from “Mee K’Elohaynu”: “You are the Ones to Whom our forefathers offered incense.”
This Temple and its congregants, the rabbi explained, were proud American Jews who looked forward to a glorious modern future and had no interest in mentioning an ancient long-forgotten Temple from the distant past.
But in the end there was no glorious future awaiting this Temple and its congregants. The children intermarried, assimilated, converted out.
On my last trip to Baltimore I drove by the glorious Temple. I was saddened but not surprised to see the sign on its lawn inviting worshipers to come celebrate Mass every Sunday at either 9 AM or 11. Take your pick.
For the past few years, the blind beggar has been standing on the corner by my house and playing Jewish tunes on his harmonica.
Aside from placing a few shekels into his cherry tomato basket labeled “contributions” over the years, I had never paid much attention to the blind beggar.
But that changed when I overheard him saying something that caught my attention one day a few years ago. I was walking home when I heard him telling a friend, “I don’t care how much money I make…Everything is in Hashem’s hands! And believe me, you can be living in a penthouse and miserable. Or you can be a beggar on the street and happy, like I am!”
After that, I started paying more attention to the blind beggar.
I started noticing older Sephardi women coming to him to receive blessings… And then this morning I saw something even more unusual. The blind man was sitting with two middle-aged women, and speaking with rabbinic-like authority as he advised a gaunt woman with thin blond hair, “You go back to New York as soon as possible, and you put a distancing order on him. He is motivated 100% by money!”
Her friend pointed her finger and exclaimed, “Do you hear? How could he possibly know that? He is a prophet!”
Who knows? It just might be that in this neighborhood full of rabbis and rebbetzins and teachers and tsaddikim– in Hashem’s eyes the blind beggar is the holiest one of us all.
We were waiting for Yosef to find his soulmate, and then he married her. And we were waiting for Michelle to give birth, and then she did last week.
So we attended the naming this past Shabbos, at one of Jerusalem’s smallest and holiest shuls.
As usual, it was standing room only and the tiny shul was crowded with people and joyful song and sincere, heartfelt prayer.
Every time I enter this shul I remember the palatial synagogues outside of Israel without a minyan on Shabbos. And in Israel we see shuls like this one that have a hundred congregants squeezed into a tiny room or two.
And if I had to choose between them? I would choose to squish and squeeze, in order to feel the angels circling above us as they squeeze in too.
Please bless me Hashem that I shouldn’t only look like I’m good.
Please bless me that I should be good too.